Corona Virus Asia Travel Tip for Flights: For a Better Trip, Skip Trip.com

One of the many things we’ve learned while being caught up in the difficulties of travel in Asia due to the Corona virus is just how unreliable and unhelpful some travel agencies are. One example is Trip.com (formerly CTrip). I’ve used them for years and have usually liked their service, but the total failure of their customer service now (unlike that of, say Delta Airlines) has made me resolve to avoid them for flights. They can seem to save money on many flights, but if you need help when an emergency arises like all the travel chaos from the Corona virus pandemic, Trip.com has been absolutely unreliable (speaking only of our experience, of course). They seem to have hired many new customer service reps to handle the high demand, but to me they seem to be not fully trained and even tell us that they are not authorized to make changes. All they do is take your request, forward some garbled version of your request to some mysterious “flight specialist” and tell you an email will come later. If something goes wrong, they won’t call and help you out. You will just get an email saying that your request was denied. Now you can start over!

They say that the request will come within one day, but it can be three or four days (as one agent explained to us and as we experienced), and then you may find, as we did, that they completely misunderstood your request or bungled it completely. Then you have to call again and start over, and by then it may be too late to get the flights you need. There is no sense of urgency in helping customers with urgent needs.

We have found that the information they give you is incorrect,  or that they charge high fees for flight changes that most airlines aren’t charging (I don’t know why they do this and will assume that it’s just a mistake or a glitch of third-party systems, but it to some it might create the impression of exploiting the crisis, which I don’t think is intentional).

In our latest case of several exasperating incidents with Trip.com, when we had to make flight changes due to cancelled flights, we bought a new ticket on Trip.com for my wife to get her back to China to teach when her international school opens its doors again in Shanghai in March. When we learned that the school had again delayed its opening date and also realized that the we needed to delay that flight due to escalating virus concerns, we called and found the agent was very unhelpful and could only pass on a request. They promised an email within 24 hours. It didn’t come.

We called twice more, and one agent said she was not authorized to make any changes. We called again and another agent seemed more helpful, but told us we would have to wait for an email. We explained we had already waited and it never came. Then he said he would “escalate” the request. We did get an email the next day, but it said that since we were changing the airport of departure (not true! everything was the same except the date), there was a large fee of about US$300. Completely wrong — it was the exact same itinerary, just a different date. Maybe the fee is correct and just the reason given was bungled? We’re not sure because all we have is just a confusing email.

After getting the email showing that Trip had completely bungled our request and wanted us to pay $300 to make a change in dates on a $500 ticket, we called back and got the same story. The agent could not make changes but could make a request and then we could have the great pleasure of waiting (what, 3 to 4 days?) to see if we could make a change on a flight that is currently scheduled to depart in 3 days. Brilliant. And worthless. I can almost imagine getting an “escalated” email in 3 days saying that since our flight has just departed, there can be no change. Tough luck.

Our departing flight is with Delta Airlines. They have been wonderful to work with during this crisis, in spite of some mistakes, and have not charged fees for changes in our dates and departure locations. But Trip wants to charge us $300 for a change. Ouch. Sadly, because we booked with a 3rd party, calling Delta for help on this doesn’t work because they have to send us back to Trip. In the future, skip Trip for a better trip.

Your experience may be much better than ours, and all of this may be due to the pressures of the virus pandemic, but other companies are maintaining decent customer service, not this maddening cycle of delays and impotent agents.

 

 

By |2020-02-12T20:50:48-07:00February 10th, 2020|Categories: China, Consumers, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , |Comments Off on Corona Virus Asia Travel Tip for Flights: For a Better Trip, Skip Trip.com

Surviving China Tip: The Glass in Your Bathroom May Not Be Safety Glass

From an earlier disaster: the remnants of a shattered shower that cut my wife’s foot when it failed as she simply tried to exit the shower.

As I write, I’m looking at three new cuts on my right foot that happened when my elbow gently bumped a glass shelf in the corner of  my walk-in shower. The glass was unsecured and it only took a gentle bump to send it to the floor. When it shattered, fragments of glass went flying, 3 with enough force to cut my foot that was about 30 centimeters from the impact. One gash was about an inch long, while the other two were small puncture wounds. But none were welcome on a busy day like today.

In China, don’t assume that safety glass has been used in places where you would expect it. If there is something like a glass shelf in your shower, remove it if you can because when it breaks, you might be injured.

My wife had a more serious problem in a different apartment. One of the two sliding glass doors of the shower wouldn’t slide at all because the roller bearings supporting it were so old that one of the little rubber rollers it required was missing about half of the rubber. The landlord refused to repair the glass door and said it was still possible to move the other door, though it, too, was becoming rough for similar reasons. But she refused to spend any money to repair it. A few weeks layer, as my wife was trying to exit the shower, the door wouldn’t move normally. She grabbed the metal bar on the shower door and tried to slide the door open, at which point the entire door shattered. It crumbled as if it were made from some kind of safety glass, but there were still hundreds of sharp edges and her foot was badly cut. (As I said, be careful with anything glass in your bathroom or anywhere else. There could be danger a foot. Or both feet.)

When we reported this to the landlord, complete with photos of the shattered glass and her bleeding foot, we did not even get a “sorry!” in response. Her reply was that this was our fault and we would have to buy her a new glass door. We met later and after some firm negotiation, we got that down to just paying for half of the cost of the door. Plus she chewed us out for having thrown away the metal pieces from the shattered door, which added to the cost of the repair. We were out about $150. We could have gone to arbitration and easily wasted much more than $150 worth of wasted time and anxiety, perhaps with a victory, or more likely the kind of ruling that is favored in China: “Why don’t you two just split the difference? You guys pays pay $150.” We wanted to stay on friendly terms with this woman and chose not to fight — it’s often futile, anyway.

Incidentally, we spent a good deal of our own money to fix up the apartment belonging to that particular prior landlord. We paid to have an ugly living room painted in fresh white, bought new furniture, decorated it, etc. She was impressed with how much better it looked. Delighted, in fact. So delighted that she realized that her attractive refreshed apartment could be rented at a higher price than the good deal we had obtained when we moved in, so she announced that she was raising our rent by 30%. Ouch. We refused and moved out. Glad to go, though we loved the place and the complex it was in.

Our current landlord, though, is just wonderful. Very kind to us and very attentive, often brings us good food, and is a friend. But we are sad that her place is getting old and will require some serious repairs in the future for some of the things that we are just living with because we like her — things like corroded original water pipes under the floor that were replaced recently with a wild system of visible PVC tubes running between rooms. Probably not up to code, but we’ve been able to cope. Just wish the glass shelf had been made with safety glass!

This tip applies to apartments, hotels, and anywhere else there is glass that could break. Be careful here or in any part of the world. My bad for not removing the glass shelf before the accident!

By |2019-09-03T22:06:39-07:00September 3rd, 2019|Categories: China, Consumers, Housing, Products, Shanghai, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Surviving China Tip: The Glass in Your Bathroom May Not Be Safety Glass

Offered a Good Job in China? Congrats! Now, Can You Afford It? (Bring a Wad of Cash!)

So you’ve got a great job offer in China? Way to go! But can you afford it? More specifically, can you afford the large up-front expenses that many foreigners face when they are required to arrange their own housing. That usually doesn’t apply to school teachers living on campus or to many big executives living in palaces (expensive villas), but for many of us, the company or institution we work for requires us to find our own housing (though they may provide a hotel for a couple of weeks to give you time to find a place to rent). Renting an apartment involves enormous expenses. Are you ready?

Rent in China’s large cities is quite high. A small place may still cost you $1,000 a month (6800 RMB) but it can easily be $3,000 a month if it’s in a nice location with, say, three bedrooms. Even if your company reimburses you for rent or for part of your rent, the process of renting involves large up-front costs that you need to pay. Rental agreements usually require a deposit of two months of rent, plus paying up front for your first three months of rent, and then paying 35% of one month as a fee to the real estate agent. You can be broke before you ever move in if you aren’t prepared. Get details and make sure you know what your company will cover and what they won’t.

You may be able to negotiate a reduced deposit of just one month, but even if you do, you need to have a wad of cash of enough funds in your Chinese bank to pay 43,500 RMB for a 10,000/month apartment. That’s over $6,000. Your credit cards won’t be accepted.

Know what you’re up against before you come!

By |2019-01-11T06:42:51-07:00January 11th, 2019|Categories: China, Consumers, Finances, Housing, Shanghai, Surviving|Comments Off on Offered a Good Job in China? Congrats! Now, Can You Afford It? (Bring a Wad of Cash!)

How We Fixed a Painful iPhone Email Error: “Cannot Verify Server Identity”

My wife’s email on her iPhone failed today, constantly giving the error message, “Cannot Verify Server Identity.” She had made no changes to her account settings. What to do?
Trying to troubleshoot, I read numerous pages offering various solutions to this problem (one that many people have had and that Apple tech support apparently is not familiar with). Solutions included turning WiFi on and off, turning SSL on and off, and more Draconian solutions like deleting and reinstalling the email account and even deleting all settings. We tried a variety of things without success. Thank goodness for terrific customer service at DreamHost.com, the host of her main email accounts. The fix was simply to update the account settings.
 
If your email is on a Dreamhost server, the instructions that worked for us might help you.
 
For the incoming server, we were told to use:
IMAP Port: 993
Incoming SSL: Enabled
Incoming Host: imap.dreamhost.com
Username: <full email address>
Authentication: Password or Normal Password
 
For the outgoing server,
SMTP Port: 465
Outgoing SSL: Enabled
Outgoing Host: smtp.dreamhost.com
Username: <full email address>
Authentication: Password or Normal Password
 
Email is working fine now! Changing the outgoing server took about 5 minutes to verify. Our service guy said we might need to reboot the phone and do it again, but it was not needed. All is well! Happy wife!
By |2018-10-23T07:31:25-07:00October 23rd, 2018|Categories: Consumers, Internet, Products|Tags: |Comments Off on How We Fixed a Painful iPhone Email Error: “Cannot Verify Server Identity”

Routine Physical Exams in China

If you work for a large company in China, you may be given a routine physical checkup every year through a local Chinese clinic. I’ve been through several versions of this in my years in China. The process can be a bit overwhelming, but it’s certainly efficient.

In these exams, you and many dozens of other people will be herded from one station to another where a “specialist” will perform there duty. Blood test, urine sample reception, eye exam, ear exam, ultrasound inspection of your heart and neck, cardiograph, magic “qi” measurement with electrodes, blood pressure check, etc. It can go pretty quickly and seems very efficient. However, it’s not exactly perfect.

In my last exam at Ciming Clinic on Hongqiao Road near Yili Road, the ear specialist looked into both ears and said all was well. On to the next station. But in reality I had severe ear wax in both ears that was already causing some hearing loss and soon would be causing ringing in one ear. When I had a real ear doctor look at it, he was amazed at how much wax there was. It took two treatments by a good ear doctor at Shanghai East Hospital to get most of it out, and a third treatment by an excellent German specialist at the Gleneagle Clinic at the Tomorrow Center at People’s Square to finish the extraction. How on earth did the Ciming ear specialist not notice and inform me of the problem? I don’t think he even looked when he stuck the ear probe in my ear.

Others have made similar complaints. Basic things are missed. The process is useful for basic indicators, but don’t assume that all is well if the results are positive, or that some of the problems they point to are real. Some of the tests may be unnecessary or even weird, sometimes apparently trying to justify a strange piece of equipment someone acquired. So see a real doctor afterwards to discuss your results and talk about your health. In the mass production operations, generally nobody will ask you basic questions that should be the beginning of a health exam. Good luck!

By |2018-09-26T16:43:30-07:00September 26th, 2018|Categories: China, Consumers, Health, Shanghai, Surviving|Comments Off on Routine Physical Exams in China

A Grieving Mom in Shanghai Learns Her Son May Not Have Pancreatic Cancer After All: Misuse of the CA-19-9 Antigen Test

A few days ago a grieving mom in Shanghai, a good friend of ours, shared some tragic news with me: her teenage son had pancreatic cancer, one of the worst cancers. Her son was likely to die soon, if the doctor was correct. Only about 20% of pancreatic cancer patients live past 5 years. She was almost overcome with grief and had been crying for a couple of days. But even though she had gone to an expensive hospital that caters to foreign clients, she wasn’t sure she should trust the doctor. The mother called me to see if I knew where she could turn for help. She didn’t know that one of my sons happens to be a doctor treating cancer at a leading US clinic.

I received a photo of the lab report for the boy and sent it to my son. The physical results reported that a scan of internal organs showed no unusual problems indicative of cancer. There were no other symptoms, just a slightly elevated CA-19-9 antigen level, 45 instead of a desired maximum of 37.

My son was greatly disappointed that the doctor would create such needless panic by telling the mom that her son probably had pancreatic cancer. My son explained that the CA-19-9 test is not supposed to be used for diagnosing cancer on its own. Absent other symptoms of cancer, its predictive power for cancer is less than 1%, he said, and when he learned that the son was just a teenager, he said it’s even less likely to be pancreatic cancer because that disease is almost unheard of in young people. The mother’s grief was turned to relief.

I later found scientific publications confirming what my son had said. For example, see K. Umashankar et al., “The clinical utility of serum CA 19-9 in the diagnosis, prognosis and management of pancreatic adenocarcinoma: An evidence based appraisal,” Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology, 2012 Jun; 3(2): 105–119; doi: 10.3978/j.issn.2078-6891.2011.021:

CA 19-9 serum levels have a sensitivity and specificity of 79-81% and 82-90% respectively for the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer in symptomatic patients; but are not useful as a screening marker because of low positive predictive value (0.5-0.9%).

Other articles indicate that diabetics, such as this young man, can have inflated CA-19-9 values (this applies at least for Type 2 diabetes–I’m not sure if CA-19-9 artifacts from Type 1 diabetes has been investigated), one of many possible alternative causes of elevated CA-19-9 values. Alternative causes for the elevated test result do not appear to have been  considered by the doctor who terrified a mom by declaring that it was probably pancreatic cancer. Again, the test can be useful in tracking the progress of treatment of a known cancer, but should not be used to diagnose cancer in the absence of other evidence, as in this case.




Keep this in mind when you have your physical in China. Don’t panic if a doctor reports that you might have pancreatic cancer based on a blood test result alone. Get a second opinion and understand why that value may be high, but don’t panic. Physical testing here can often include too many unnecessary tests in search of phantom problems that may be listed in your report by people who aren’t necessarily qualified to make such proclamations.

The family still needs to be cautious and follow up on the possible causes of the inflated test result, but it was only slightly elevated unlike the much higher scores that I’ve seen reported in patients who actually do have pancreatic cancer.

I am so grateful that my son was able to help bring peace to a mother who had been crying for a couple of days over the “fake news” she received from a generally good hospital. I suggest that here or anywhere else you should be open to the possibility that some doctors don’t know what they are talking about. And of course, that can apply to what I’ve said here. Do your homework, ask questions, and be cautious about what others declare.

 

By |2018-07-05T22:10:03-07:00June 17th, 2018|Categories: China, Consumers, Education, Health, Safety, Surviving|Tags: , |Comments Off on A Grieving Mom in Shanghai Learns Her Son May Not Have Pancreatic Cancer After All: Misuse of the CA-19-9 Antigen Test

Finally! Now I Have 4G on My iPhone 6+ Thanks to China Unicom (Goodbye, China Telecom!)

Two days ago the most amazing thing happened. I needed to buy a new SIM card for my Apple iPhone 6+, and when I went looking for a local China Mobile (中国移动) store, I saw a competing China Unicom (中国联通) store closer to my office and decided to give it a try for convenience. When I put the China Unicom SIM card in my iPhone, I was shocked and delighted to see that after all these years of suffering, I finally had 4G service. Wow! That means fast access to the Internet and, for example, all the valuable functions WeChat provides (taxi hailing, payments, bus schedules, social media, even video calls). Life just got better.



One of my few frustrations in China has been the slow data services on my iPhone. When I need to use the Internet and don’t have local WiFi, I’ve been limited to 2G. Folks at the Apple store here explained that my US iPhone was designed for a different cellular network not compatible with China’s network, so there was no hope of 4G service like everyone else seems to have. But they were wrong. The real problem, as explained by a knowledgeable Taiwanese colleague, was that the provider of my former SIM card, China Mobile, operates over a portion of the cellular spectrum that is incompatible with my iPhone. China Unicom, on the other hand, operates over a different portion of the spectrum, making their network more compatible with US phones. The China Unicom employee smiled as she explained what was apparently well known to her: their service gives me 4G, but China Mobile’s service can’t. Wish I had known this a couple years ago! Even after a supposed updated SIM card was installed in my iPhone courtesy of my employer, the service remained 2G.

Why am I changing SIM cards at all? My employer is giving me a new company phone, a Samsung model with high security features (VMWare to track employees and make it harder to steal trade secrets, supposedly) that has 4G, and are giving me a new SIM card with that phone while requiring me to return the old SIM card I have been using in my iPhone. Changing phones is a bit traumatic, but discovering accidentally that I could easily upgrade to 4G just by switching to China Unicom helps make the change more welcome. Thank you, China Unicom!

By |2018-06-17T18:51:44-07:00May 31st, 2018|Categories: China, Consumers, Internet, Products, Shanghai, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , , |Comments Off on Finally! Now I Have 4G on My iPhone 6+ Thanks to China Unicom (Goodbye, China Telecom!)

Credit Cards in China: Don’t Rely on Them, and Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers for Security

Many visitors to China are surprised to see that credit cards are not widely accepted. High-end hotels will accept them, certainly, but they might not be accepted at many Chinese hotels. Many restaurants are not able to take Western credit cards. Train tickets, taxis, and numerous other services will refuse them. Simply put, cash is king in China. You really need to have a healthy amount of cash for daily survival. Have a stack of 100 RMB bills and some smaller bills and a few coins.

The first time I used a credit card in China was at a Best Western hotel in Shenzhen, near the Hong Kong border. Within 15 minutes after using the card, a spurious charge was made against that number by someone trying to purchase something in California. Our credit card company called to report the problem and our card had to be inactivated. Big hassle. Not everyone has that problem, but in Asia there are many places where credit card numbers will be swiped. They are easier to swipe than the highly secure ATM cards that are commonly used and accepted in China, cards that require a 6-digit password.

For secure use of a credit card here or anywhere else, a great service offered by some providers is a virtual credit card number. Bank of America, Discover, and Citibank offer this service. With a virtual credit card service such as Bank of America’s ShopSafe system, you can request a one-time or limited time use credit card number with a set maximum amount that can be charged against it. You don’t have to worry about the virtual credit card number being stolen. For example, I just logged into my credit card’s service and requested a virtual credit card number. I specified the amount that could be charged ($30), the date the card would expire (2 months from now), and then received a new card number, CCV code, and expiration date with my name and linked to my credit card. I used this to pay for an annual service that I don’t want to be automatically renewed with a provider who may not have the highest security. I made the payment and don’t have to worry about them charging me over and over or about hackers stealing my card number. It’s worthless now that I’ve made my payment.

Virtual credit card numbers can help you add security to your travels and your online life. You will need online access to your account to create them. You can obtain a variety of numbers for different parts of your trip. It’s a terrific advance in credit card security.

By |2018-04-25T05:57:43-07:00April 25th, 2018|Categories: Business, China, Consumers, Finances, Products, Restaurants, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: |Comments Off on Credit Cards in China: Don’t Rely on Them, and Use Virtual Credit Card Numbers for Security

Milk in China: Try the Asahi Brand for Safe, Delicious Fresh Milk

Milk has been a problem for many people in China. Trust of Chinese dairies has been low after some past disasters. Large milk powder companies struggle tend to import the milk they use because of quality control problem among the numerous small dairies that provide milk to large providers. Foreigners who like to use milk tend to buy ultra-high-temperature (UHT) treated milk that does not require refrigeration until it is opened, but the flavor tends to be poor from the heat treatment and nutritional value may be lowered as well.

After struggling with various brands of UHT milk and shying away from Chinese dairies for fresh milk, I finally found a brand of fresh that impresses me: Asahi milk. This is a Japanese company using good Japanese dairy methods on their Chinese dairy. The flavor of the milk is better than anything I remember in the US and tastes like fresh milk I enjoyed in Switzerland long ago. Really delicious. A liter will cost slightly over 20 RMB, about the same price for good quality UHT cartons of milk. But so fresh and delicious. Also, I think, safe and consistent in quality.

Asahi brand whole milk: possibly China's best?v

Asahi brand whole milk: possibly China’s best?

By |2017-10-24T06:52:38-07:00January 21st, 2017|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Health, Safety, Shopping, Surviving|Tags: , , , |2 Comments

Funny Red Beef in China: Treated with Sodium Nitrite?

I’ve noticed that beef sold in small shops in China is often a bright red color as if very fresh, maybe too fresh. It may have been sitting out for hours or days, and it is still that bright red color, never turning brown as regular beef does. We were buying beef from a local market for quite a while before it hit me that there was something odd about the color. It never turned brown until you cooked it. Finally it hit me that this beef has been treated in some way, probably with sodium nitrite or other chemicals that prevent the normal browning that occurs when beef oxidizes over time.

Some people worry that nitrites might cause cancer, especially when present in meet that is grilled or cooked at high temperature. Whether nitrites are carcinogenic or not, I don’t want chemicals being added to my beef to disguise its age and let old beef look fresh. This might be a good topic for further investigation because I don’t know for sure what is being added and who is doing the treatments, or of they are safe or not. But in the absence of assuring data, the strange absence of browning in some of the been being sold here has given me one more thing to worry about when it comes to meat in China.

Eat meat sparingly. Make sure it’s fresh and from a trustworthy source. Pork and chicken, which are sold in large quantities with high turnover, may be freshest and safest, in my opinion.

By |2017-01-06T21:12:08-07:00January 6th, 2017|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Health, Restaurants, Safety, Shanghai, Shopping|Tags: , |Comments Off on Funny Red Beef in China: Treated with Sodium Nitrite?

Shanghai Disney Resort: Second Time’s the Charm! My Best Disney Experience Ever

Shanghai Disney Castle

After a frustrating but still quite fun first experience at Shanghai Disney during their pre-opening test days, I was worried that Disney lines in Shanghai would always be too long for most customers. I am happy to report that our second experience on a beautiful winter Saturday, December 10, was much better. This time was clearly my best Disney experience ever. I’ve been to Disney resorts in Anaheim and Orlando more than once for each, and while Shanghai is smaller, this was the most fun I’ve had.

Why was my visit on Dec. 10, 2016 so much better than my visit earlier this year? First, lines were much better than before, partly because there were more rides open and perhaps because the thrill of a new Disney resort had worn off, so crowds, while healthy, were not overwhelming. Many good rides had lines only 30 minutes long. One hour was the longest we waited for anything all day.

For peak times and peak rides, this time we also had the benefit of a good mix of fast passes that gave us rapid access. Plus this time we used the outstanding Shanghai Disney app that shows wait times for rides to help with planning and provides a live map to show you where you are and where to go. Also in our favor, essentially all the rides were operating whereas many were closed during the pre-opening period, so there were more events to spread out the crowds.

Another plus was that we didn’t lose over an hour wading fighting chaos as the giant dining hall near Tron that still hadn’t figured out how to manage their food system, but instead went to better places like Barbossa and Remi’s Patisserie to eat much faster and with better quality food. Further, this time we got an earlier start, arriving right at 9:00 AM when the resort opens, and we also didn’t have to leave early to catch a dinner event as we did our first time. Overall, a longer, more efficient, and much more fun day. Bottom line: use the app, use fast passes, arrive early, and visit your top picks early in the day when lines are short. They may also be short after 6 PM when lots of Shanghai folks focus on eating.

On our first visit, we tried to do the Tron ride but were thwarted by wait times of over 4 hours (!). Even when kind employees there had pity on us and helped us get fast passes, we were thwarted again by a mechanical problem that shut the ride down right as we entered. That mechanical problem turned out to be a new employee leaving a door open that triggered a safety alarm that shut down the ride until engineers could pinpoint the problem. No mechanical failure, just a silly human error. Today Tron was flawless and we rode it 3 times! We did it twice in a row in the morning, and later in the evening around 7 pm the wait time was low.

Favorite rides were Tron, Soaring, and Pirates, and we even liked the interactive fun of Buzz Lightyear. Wonderful, beautiful resort. Thank you, Disney!

By |2017-10-24T06:51:17-07:00December 15th, 2016|Categories: China, Consumers, Food, Shanghai, Shopping, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Shanghai Disney Resort: Second Time’s the Charm! My Best Disney Experience Ever

Ctrip Trouble: Beware “Free Cancellation”

Ctrip.com is one of the most popular sites for booking travel in Asia and my experiences with it have generally been positive. Unfortunately, I learned that hotel rooms advertised with “free cancellation” policies may leave the purchaser without the protection sought. I also learned that Ctrip’s customer service needs serious improvement.

I was booking a room for 5 people for a tentative stay in Haikou, Hainan. Seeing that the Tienyow Hotel offered some rooms with free cancellation, I booked one of those rooms and then prepaid. The listing with free cancellation had a higher price than the same kind of room without free cancellation, but the extra price was worth the security of having free cancellation if our plans were to change.

On the payment page, the listing continued to show the words “free cancellation” (I didn’t pay much attention to that at the time, actually, but have since verified this behavior on similar listings at the hotel) — but also had a confusing message about not being able to make changes once an order is confirmed. I figured that was standard verbiage that had not been updated to reflect the free cancellation that I was paying for. After all, I was paying extra for the free cancellation service.

When I completed payment, I received an email from Ctrip that said I had paid and that everything was nonrefundable in case I wanted to change. So I called customer service and was told that there was no free cancellation and they couldn’t do anything about it. The representative didn’t seem to get that it was a pretty disturbing, actually illegal, thing to advertise a service or benefit (free cancellation), charge extra for it, and then withhold the service. I asked to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor was too busy, I was told, but would call me back. He or she did not.

I later went to Ctrip’s live chat and explained the problem and asked for the email of the Legal Department and the CEO so I could register my complaint. They refused to give me that information, after repeated requests, and simply said that “We would inform the staff.” Huh? It took a while to get them to explain what they meant by that, but it was that they would ask a customer service person to call me. Other than that, the chat rep would not answer anything, in spite of my other questions about how they could offer free cancellation and not provide it.

Finally I did get a call from a supervisor in customer service who wanted to argue and tell me that they “had clearly” given notice that there was no free cancellation because of the conflicting message on the second page. They could not change my order because this was their policy, and they cannot change their policy.

At this point a native-Chinese speaking lawyer in my office jumped in and argued with the rep. After about 30 minutes, they offered to try to cancel the reservation for me. But that failed because the hotel refused to cooperate. Later, however, Ctrip did kindly acknowledge that there was something of a problem here and offered to cover 50% of my loss if we have to change or cancel the reservation that I’ve paid for. They also offered 100 RMB, later upped to 200 RMB, as Ctrip-bucks if we do complete the reservation. OK, that’s an improvement, but it took a lot of time and energy to get Ctrip to budge, and they still have a credibility gap when it comes to their offerings. They claim they will fix that soon. I hope so.

By |2016-10-24T05:57:52-07:00October 20th, 2016|Categories: China, Consumers, Shopping, Surviving, Travel tips|Tags: , , , |Comments Off on Ctrip Trouble: Beware “Free Cancellation”